August is the season for kräftor crayfish in Sweden. But how did this tradition start in Sweden? What does it entail today? And what are some useful phrases for a traditional kräftskiva crayfish party?
The history of kräftor in Sweden
In Sweden, we have been eating kräftor for many hundreds of years. Earlier, it was mainly considered food for the upper classes, and it wasn’t until late 1800’s and early 1900’s that it became more widely popular in Sweden. About 100 years ago, the idea of kräftskiva crayfish party started to become firmly established.
Kräftor has become associated to the month of August because of legislation. Since the Swedes ate large amounts of crayfish, it led to the introduction of legislation in terms of when it was allowed to fish for crayfish. In late 1800’s for example, it was not allowed to fish for crayfish throughout June and July.
In the past decades, legislation has become more relaxed again, and there are no strict dates or times for cray-fishing any longer. But since it has been associated with August for so long, it is still customary to begin the ‘crayfish season’ (to eat crayfish and to have crayfish parties) in early-mid August.
How do you catch kräftor? (or where can you buy them?)
In Sweden, there are two species of freshwater crayfish: flodkräftan and signalkräftan. Flodkräftan is from Sweden, whereas signalkräftan has been introduced into Sweden and does not originate from Sweden. They live in shallow waters where they build holes next to stones and roots.
As a private person, you are not allowed to fish for crayfish anywhere you like. Only Lake Vättern is actually open to the public. In other waters around the country, you will need some kind of license (unless you are lucky enough to be the owner of the lake!). On the West Coast, people tend to eat havskräftor – which is more like a langoustine.
Kräftor are nocturnal animals, and are therefore caught at night. The most common way to catch them is by putting out special netted crates on the lake bed and fill them with fish, so that the crayfish are lured inside.
It is said that you should minimise the suffering of the crayfish by putting them head first into boiling water, so that they die more quickly.
You can also buy them from most supermarkets throughout August.
Kräftskiva Crayfish party
The typical kräftskiva is a party where we eat crayfish and other foods, sing songs and drink (usually quite a lot).
The crayfish are cooked whole in salted water accompanied with dill, other herbs and sometimes also beer. This is accompanied with baguettes, knäckebröd, herb-infused cheese, prawns, and often västerbottenpaj. To drink, Swedes often opt for snaps (herb-infused vodka), beer and soft fizzy drinks. It is quite common to sing songs when drinking snaps.
It is also common to wear special paper hats and bibs with a crayfish motif, and use serviettes with images of crayfish. Lanterns, bunting and candles often accompany the scene of a kräftskiva.
A word of caution…. Crayfish takes some time to eat (because of the challenge of cracking the shells) and the combination of slow eating and drinking snaps can mean a high likelihood of getting drunk quickly! Remember you don’t actually have to empty the snaps every time, even though some Swedes might try and insist on it.
Some useful phrases for a kräftskiva
Åh vad gott det var! Oh it’s really tasty!
Hur öppnar man den här? How do you open this one? (referring to the crayfish)
Kan jag få…? Can I get…?
Kan du skicka…? Can you pass me…?
Det är bra, tack. I’m good thanks. (as in ‘no more, please’)
Tack för maten! Thanks for the food!
Kan jag hjälpa till med något? Can I do anything? (for example help clearing the table)
Jag är mätt. I am full.
Jag är full. I am drunk.